January 7th, 2014
07:07 PM ET
8 years ago

Gates' tell-all rattles White House, Congress

Updated 12:05 p.m. ET, 1/8/2014

(CNN) - Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates set off shock waves in Washington with accounts from his upcoming memoir, in which he unleashes blistering criticism of Congress and his former colleagues in the Obama administration.

He also claims the President lost faith in his own Afghanistan policy.

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Gates' comments come in his memoir "Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War," which was obtained by CNN but set to be released next week.

In the book, Gates writes, "[Obama] eventually lost faith in the troop increase he ordered in Afghanistan, his doubts fed by top White House civilian advisers opposed to the strategy, who continually brought him negative news reports suggesting it was failing."

A Republican appointee of President George W. Bush who stayed on into Obama's administration, Gates also writes of a pivotal 2011 meeting in which Obama questions the abilities of Gen. David H. Petraeus.

"As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his...For him, it's all about getting out," Gates writes.

A source familiar with White House thinking on how to respond to Gates' memoir told CNN that White House officials have been in meetings on the issue and were reaching out to allies to defend the President against the claims.

The source said they are being careful not to attack Gates directly, thinking that will backfire.

Officials believe Obama's foreign policy legacy is strong because of his Afghanistan policies and the killing of Osama bin Laden, and that Gates' accusations don't hurt with the Democratic base.

A White House official called attention to two parts of the book that reflect positively on the President. Gates said of Obama's chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions."

"I never doubted Obama's support for the troops," Gates writes. The official, however, did not highlight the rest of the sentence, which says "only his support for their mission."

A former White House official contested the excerpts saying, "I thought the President was a close ally of Gates. It's disappointing, because if Gates had issues you would've expected him to raise them. When I spoke to Gates about the president he was always effusive."

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the President "deeply appreciates Gates' service" and is open to differing points of view from his national security team.

"Deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and it is well known that the President has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year," Hayden said in response to the comments.

A senior U.S. military official involved in some of the events described in the book expressed dismay with Gates, telling CNN that if Gates had been in uniform and felt that the President and his staff were deficient, he would have had an obligation to resign. He noted some may feel Gates also had the same obligation given that he signed orders sending troops off to war.

This official was directly involved in Afghanistan troop surge discussions. He was adamant the military commanders did not "game" the President on the numbers, but they came to realize Obama felt that way.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted in response to reports of the memoir, criticizing the timing of the former defense secretary's comments.

Criticism of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden

Gates was also critical of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, recounting a conversation between Obama and Clinton suggesting political motives for their positions on Iraq.

"Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq has been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary,” Gates writes. “The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying."

Republicans use Gates' new book to hammer Clinton, Biden

The former White House official responded, "President Obama evaluated the merits of the surge but his opposition to it was not political, rather in line with his thought that more of the same was not the right path."

Of Biden, Gates wrote, "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Hayden said Obama disagrees with Gates' assessment of Biden and hailed the Vice President as "one of the leading statesmen of his time."

One day after Gates book bonanza, a rare peek into Obama-Biden lunch

Criticism of Congress more severe

For as scathing as Gates was in describing the Obama administration, the former defense secretary said none of the difficulties he had with the executive branch "compared with the pain of dealing with Congress," a body he describes as phony, self-centered and narrow-minded.

"Congress is best viewed from a distance – the farther the better – because up close, it is truly ugly," Gates wrote in a piece in the Wall Street Journal, which was adapted from his book.

"I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country."

Gates opened the piece by writing that in the numerous times he testified before Congress, he found himself "tempted to stand up, slam the briefing book shut and quit on the spot" because of the "rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often highly personal attacks" one has to endure during congressional testimony.

He said if he had done so, he would have told Congress, "I may be the secretary of defense, but I am also an American citizen, and there is no son of a bitch in the world who can talk to me like that."

"Members postured and acted as judge, jury and executioner," he wrote.

His hypothesis as to why so many members "were in a permanent state of outrage:" The members must have "suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least treatment for anger management."

Another congressional thorn in Gates' side brought to light in his opinion editorial is how Congress handled deciding which defense instillations and bases to close during budget tightening.

Gates wrote that "any defense facility or contract in their district or state, no matter how superfluous or wasteful, was sacrosanct," even if the member had "stridently attacked the Defense Department as inefficient and wasteful."

Why he wrote the book—now

Critics of the memoir blasted Gates for publishing the critique in the middle of the Obama’s second term, saying the more appropriate move would have been to wait until after his former boss leaves the White House in 2016.

A source close to Gates noted that he’s a historian by nature and wanted to document what went on but didn't want to wait because he believed the content of his book is all still relevant and should be discussed real time, especially issues of war and the troops.

The dysfunction in Washington and the way commanders and generals were treated really upset him, the source added.

Gates disagrees that his decision to release the book now is disloyal. In fact, he believes just the opposite and stands by all of it, the source said.

As for Gates’ stinging criticism of Congress, the source said Gates had the most disdain for the House Foreign Affairs Committee, though he didn’t give specific names of lawmakers.

- CNN's Brianna Keilar, Barbara Starr, Dana Bash, Dan Merica, Dana Davidsen and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

 


Filed under: Obama administration • Robert Gates • White House
soundoff (625 Responses)
  1. Lynard

    Gates has always impressed me as a public servant devoid of partisan hyperbole and petty bickering. I have not read his book but so far I’ve heard nothing to change my opinion of the man. This nation is fortunate to have a few men and women like him in public service. Wish there were more.

    January 8, 2014 06:56 am at 6:56 am |
  2. Nick

    Obama has no foreign policy legacy. Killing a terrorist does not equal foreign policy. The entire Mideast is a mess, Iran is on the verge of having the bomb, Iraq is worse that it was when Obama took office, and he won't even talk to Afghanistan. Obama and Hillary created a nightmare that won't go away for several decades.

    January 8, 2014 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  3. bob

    A lot of information there to digest, but what stands out most to me is the fact that Hillary admits and then Barak agrees, that the surge opposition was purely for their own personal political gain. Which means the that the best interests of the country and the troops on the ground, who they are supposedly protecting and representing, are put at risk all for the greater glory of themselves. So then we have Benghazi with the same two leaders in charge. Makes you wonder.

    January 8, 2014 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  4. DC Johnny

    The Department of Defense has installations, not "instillations".

    The left and the media is going to love bringing Gates front and center for the next 3 years, as he sounds like an angry fool. That's what the left likes, to misrepresent the entire conservative movement as angry and uninformed.

    I'd rather they just assess this administration and liberal policy honestly for what it's worth – epic failure after failure.

    January 8, 2014 07:14 am at 7:14 am |
  5. NMACT

    Clearly this will be viewed in a totally partisan manner, and the posts will be very predictable. My only real criticism of Gates is that, given his opinions, he should never have accepted the Medal of Freedom since this was given as a reward for the very policies and events he now disowns.

    January 8, 2014 07:15 am at 7:15 am |
  6. Bob

    When Obama came in after 7 years of being in Afghanistan, it was past time we should have left Afghanistan. Bush took his eye off of Afghanistan and started a war in Iraq. In both cases, we could have gotten in and out but we decided to stay and try and push democracy in places where there hasn't been any at all ever. We dumped trillions of dollars we didn't have to prop up govts we knew wouldn't last. It is the same as Vietnam where after we left it all fell apart. It's happening again in Iraq and will happen in Afghanistan because the Taliban will not give up wanting an Islamic state. Because radicalists are ruthless and unforgiving and stubbornly ignorant of anything non-Islamic.

    January 8, 2014 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  7. RichardSRussell

    Apt choice of terminology. Faith was the only thing our Afghanistan policy had going for it — certainly not confidence or anything like a track record of success, just the blind, fingers-crossed aspiration, common among warmongers everywhere, that something good would eventually happen if we continued to stuff money and body parts down that endless rathole and blew up enuf stuff.

    January 8, 2014 07:19 am at 7:19 am |
  8. humtake

    "...and that Gates' accusations don't hurt with the Democratic base."

    Rofl!! If you are a Democrat, NOTHING will hurt your opinion of them. If you are a Republican, NOTHING will hurt your opinion of them. This is a general rule (not set in stone, but generally speaking is very true). People on one side tend to blindly follow that side regardless of what is done. Mainly because nobody wants their side to be wrong, and nobody wants the fact they voted in an ineffective leader to be known. This goes for both sides.

    January 8, 2014 07:23 am at 7:23 am |
  9. bill

    the obamawolves are gathering at CNN-wow-instead of reporting what Gates has to say-CNN reports how obama is begging for allies???? Ever wonder why we all know CNN is never going to just report "things" on obama but defend him like CC-cheeseburger candy-did in the presidential debate or wolfe biased being so upset about clint's empty chair. This is why i see what CNN is hiding but watch Fox News to get truth. YOU CAN KEEP YOUR INSURANCE-IT WAS A VIDEO--AQ IS ON THE RUN-NOBODY TOLD ME. How about reporting obama costs the tax payers $800,000 just by leaving his wife in Hawaii so that an empty plane had to go get her and bring her back???? ever hear of heir goebbels???

    January 8, 2014 07:30 am at 7:30 am |
  10. larry

    Obama Drone Strikes: The Socialist's Knockout Game

    January 8, 2014 07:32 am at 7:32 am |
  11. Natalia

    CNN you sold to us Obama now everything is coming out from the dark .I voted for Obama but I regret big time cause he destroyed my health insurance .Before Obama I had a job and business and insurance and I owned a house now I have lost everything .Congratulations CNN keep on cheering Obama

    January 8, 2014 07:33 am at 7:33 am |
  12. jashembaish

    They will crucify him. No one gets away with this against this administration.

    January 8, 2014 07:40 am at 7:40 am |
  13. david rankin

    I definately agree with his comments regarding congress inappitude.

    January 8, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  14. jewishliberty

    I wonder which political group(s) in Congress he dint get along with.

    January 8, 2014 07:51 am at 7:51 am |
  15. Life isnt fair

    Military leaders always want to drag wars out forever; civilian leaders tire of war as does the public. Gates was more aligned with the generals. I think the presdient probably respected the military leaders but he had to respond to the public who is sick and tired of the US having troops in other nations. This has always been a dilemma that presidents face
    when the country is at war or about to go to war.

    January 8, 2014 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  16. SMITVICT

    Quick. Circle the wagons.

    January 8, 2014 07:55 am at 7:55 am |
  17. BobPitt

    What a coward.. if you had something to say to your boss you should told him to his face, backstabbing is not honorable.
    You are a coward sir..!!!

    January 8, 2014 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  18. Bill

    The truth hurts...hahahahahahahahahahahah

    January 8, 2014 07:59 am at 7:59 am |
  19. Madison

    Funny how gates absolutely gushed with praise of the President for several years when he was actually working with him...........hmmmmm....................do you think gates looking for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination by any chance?

    January 8, 2014 08:00 am at 8:00 am |
  20. Indyswimmer66

    Sounds accurate. And.... the President appears to have been accurate in his assessments.

    January 8, 2014 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  21. cmml

    Can't wait to see the Obama & Democrat attack teams find ways to destroy Gate's credibility. Here comes the "thuggery"

    January 8, 2014 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  22. JG

    Duh, wouldn't you lose faith in any "Afgan war policy" too...? What a dumpster fire. Look how Iraq and the rest of our "projects" have turned out. Who's to know? I suppose Gates had the right answer all along....

    January 8, 2014 08:03 am at 8:03 am |
  23. JJ236

    This is what an incompetent narcissist does.

    January 8, 2014 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  24. Stephen

    Edward Snowden exposed criminal activity being committed at the highest levels by our government on our people and they want to hunt him down. This clown writes a sleazy tell-all that slanders every politician at the highest levels and he gets paid handsomely for it. Go figure.

    January 8, 2014 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
  25. William R. Hill

    Obama thought Gates was the best man for the job when he appointed him. Gates certainly hasn't returned the favor. His book sounds like a long opinion piece full of unsubstantiated gossip. However, I'm sure many agree with his comments about Congress and its bullying, publicity-seeking hearings. Too bad he wasn't in a position to punch them in their figurative nose like Howard Hughes did. This Congress is full of bush league, self-centered members of limited mental capacity who only know partisan politics. They don't deserve to rated as highly as they are and are a disgrace to a great nation that depends on them for effective leadership.

    January 8, 2014 08:08 am at 8:08 am |
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